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Santorum among politicians who blame those caught in hurricane and flood for their own suffering

The more I see reports about the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, devastating so much of the Gulf Coast, in particular the city of New Orleans, the angrier I become.

I was fixated by television accounts of the disaster over the Labor Day weekend - and profoundly saddened by the anguish, hardship and misery of those whose homes have been destroyed, those who have lost loved ones, the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been uprooted. Especially the children. You can see the despair in their faces.

My anger is fueled by the incompetence and insensitivity of local, state and federal officials, beginning with the President - by their failure to respond appropriately, adequately or swiftly enough. His partner in incompetence is Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who came across as a man whose head was underwater before the flood. Brown, or "Brownie," as the President calls his friend, was removed from supervision of the post-Katrina relief efforts Friday, though he is still head of FEMA. He should have been fired. The next to be fired should be Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security.

It's very clear to me that race and economic class were the major reasons the government was slow and uncoordinated in its initial response. Those who have suffered the most are mostly poor blacks or whites.

Those who heeded the call to evacuate New Orleans were those who had automobiles and a steady income and thus could afford to leave.

Rapper Kanye West may have been politically incorrect during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina survivors when he said that "George Bush doesn't care about black people," but he was not completely off the mark.

If a comparable natural disaster hit a predominantly white, upper- or middle-class community, state and federal governments would have stepped lively.

The evidence shows that the White House, Congress, and the federal courts are controlled by conservative ideologues whose policies do not favor African Americans and other people of color and the poor.

Some blame those caught in the hurricane and flood for their own suffering. If they had evacuated when they were told to, then this would not have happened to them, goes the taunt.

A glaring example of this kind of thinking emerged in U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's comments last weekend to a Pittsburgh TV station. The Pennsylvania Republican, a staunch conservative, suggested that people who fail to leave should be punished for putting others at risk.

Most of the estimated 200,000 who remained in New Orleans during the storm were blacks and whites who did not have the resources to leave. They were poor (the average yearly income of blacks in New Orleans is $11,000) and had no cars. Among them was a disproportionate number of sick people and people with disabilities. These were women, children and the elderly, left in homes with no electricity or running water, no medication, waiting in filth, surrounded by fetid water, begging for help.

Too many of these people died before the cavalry finally came.

Anybody who says I am playing the race card is in stone denial. This nation's economic and educational systems have no place for poor people, and less of a place for underrepresented minorities than for the power classes. Those who already have get the most.

The disaster has not only delineated and exposed America's political and cultural hypocrisy, but it also has shown the world how ill-prepared we are to face any disaster, whether natural or man-made (as in a terrorist attack).

Yet this crisis also has demonstrated something that has given this cynic some hope. Many Americans, of all races and economic classes, are reaching out and assisting those in need. They are giving money, clothing, food and water, and providing jobs and homes. If we're at all human, we recognize that when disaster strikes any of our fellow human beings, it strikes at ourselves.

God bless anyone who helps. But I am sick of an ideology that pretends that good feelings and charity alone are ever sufficient. They're not. Talk about self-sufficiency and the free market "coming round eventually" - I'm done with it. Our policies, whatever we name them, too often have the same effect of indifference and criminal negligence, always falling on the same kinds of people. Like you, I watched the catastrophe unfold on television. I saw the photographs in the newspapers. Our eyes were not lying.

By Acel Moore, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep 11, 2005

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